Blog post by Nadja Jukic
Let’s get right to the point. The winter exam period is fast approaching (imagine faint jingle bells sounding in the distance), and you have an essay to write (I imagine you at your dark oak desk, with quirky glasses and a hot cup of coffee in one of those Penguin mugs – or perhaps I’m just imagining myself). And don’t worry (in case you thought you could skip this because it likely doesn’t apply to your particular writing assignment), the same rules apply for any type of essay of any possible length – including seminar papers. These tips are all-encompassing, and, if I may say so myself, tried and true.
If you want to produce a top-notch essay every single time simply abide by the following checklist. Pretty neat, huh?
– You can begin your introduction with a fairly general statement (relating, of course, to your topic) and then quickly – but smoothly – move to the specific. If you can connect it to your title, all the better.
– Make sure your thesis statement is clear and obvious. Be wary of bland, generalising, or confusing statements. As a rule of thumb, your thesis statement has to be formulated in such a way that your reader can either agree or disagree with it.
– Imagine your thesis statement as the glue holding your entire essay (or seminar paper) together.
– You can re-write your introduction after you’ve finished the whole essay, but don’t make it look like it was written last. It still has to feel like an introduction, not a conclusion.
– Every single paragraph of your body should include a minor argument that props up your main argument, i.e., your thesis statement. If you can, divide these arguments into paragraphs.
– Pay attention to the lengths of your paragraphs: if they are all more or less the same length, this will help you distribute the arguments evenly throughout the essay.
– Begin each paragraph with a mini thesis statement. That is, the main argument you wish to present in that specific paragraph. Doing this will help you tie the argument back to your thesis statement.
– Each and every single sentence should drive the argument (and with that, your essay) forward. If you have additional information that is interesting but does not quite fit in, include it in the form of footnotes.
– Mix up short and long sentences within the paragraphs.
– Quote only when truly necessary. As a professor at our department likes to say, quotes are like spices. Add them in moderation.
– While including some blockquotes is fine, they shouldn’t make up half of your essay. This is your essay, after all.
– Always properly contextualize your quote. Weave it into your sentence, introduce it with your own words, and afterwards explain it.
– I cannot stress this one enough: follow the guidelines of your chosen citation style. Go strictly to the source (for example, the Purdue Owl for MLA) to find the latest and updated version of how to form your in-text citations and bibliography.
– Your conclusion should reflect your introduction, tie all your arguments together into a nice little bow and open up the horizons of your topic. Where could you take it from here? Is there more research that could or should be done, taking your topic in a new or different direction? Do not dwell on this point or introduce new arguments here; simply suggest other possibilities.
And, last but not least, don’t worry if your academic style isn’t fully formed yet; it takes time. The more academic writing you will read, the more academic your own writing will sound. And that is a promise.